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No Rain, No Gain: Why Travel to Botswana in the Green Season

Famous for its Kalahari setting, Botswana is generally a place of empty blue skies and dazzling sunshine. It does have a rainy season however - often disarmingly called the Green Season - but don't worry too much about that word 'rainy'. The absolute wettest part of the country records as much precipitation in a year as London or Melbourne do, while the rest of the country gets about enough to fill a coffee cup. You're not going to need to pack an umbrella. And besides, nearly all the rain falls between December and April with soggy February accounting for the bulk of it.

Seasoned Botswana travellers have long known this and recommend visiting during the May to October dry season when game viewing is at its easiest. With only winter's thin vegetation to hide them, animals are highly visible, especially when they congregate at shrinking waterholes and on riverbanks as the dry season grinds on.

The trouble is everyone else knows this too. And coupled with the fact that Botswana's dry season coincides with the northern hemisphere's big summer holiday period, Botswana's major wildlife destinations get pretty crowded. So if you want all the drama of Botswana's legendary game viewing without the crowds, consider a Green Season safari. It's not only a case of fewer visitors: you will enjoy affordable accommodation and tour rates but plenty of low season surprises too.

No Rain No Gain

Firstly, the rains transform the brown winter landscape into a startling green wonderland. Full-leafed acacia trees cast deep, cool shade over rolling green lawns; flowers leap up unannounced out of the sand, and crusty salt pans turn into shimmering wetlands full of honking waterbirds. The clean-washed air makes colours richer and deeper, the cloud-stacked sunsets are more intense - photographers will love the Green Season.

No Rain No Gain
Kings Pools

As dramatic as the afternoon sky, so too is the reaction of Botswana's wildlife to the rains. Antelope like impala and springbok take advantage of the new greenery to give birth - seemingly all at the same time (ready...wait for it... now!). This of course is excellent news for Botswana's long-toothed predators. If you want to see nature at its most ruthless, head for the nearest herd of ear-twitching herbivores with their lambs and wait for the inevitable carnage.

And not only do many animals drop their young in the Green Season, they also gather in great herds and go marching across the country. The Savuti area of the Chobe National Park erupts into lights-camera-action drama as a zebra migration, set upon by big cats and wild dogs, rolls into town for the fresh summer grazing.

No Rain No Gain

Nowhere in Botswana sees a more striking migration than the Kalahari. Indeed, it is during the rainy season that this usually inhospitable region comes alive. Lines of wildebeest and zebra wind their way onto the Makgadikgadi grasslands; buffalo and elephant - incongruous in this semi-desert setting - arrive at Nxai Pan National Park while the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, home to huge herds of springbok, echoes to the sounds of contented fat-bellied lions and I-couldn't-eat-another-bite cheetahs.

And then there are the birds. Botswana has a wonderful range of resident species but as the rains arrive, so do migrant birds from Europe, Asia and other parts of Africa. Botswana's bird watching goes from superb to sensational: kingfishers, kites, swallows, bee-eaters and cuckoos fill the air with extravagant song and colour. Everywhere is good for birding - the Kalahari, Savuti, the Okavango Delta, the Chobe River and Linyanti wetlands... even non-birders will get caught up in the excitement during a Botswana low season safari.

No Rain No Gain
Zarafa and Ryan Green's picture

So why isn't everyone going on safari in Botswana's Green Season? Well, it does rain of course, but not that much. Afternoon downpours are what you can expect but there are plenty of cloudless days as well. And the earlier you go the better - the drier late November to early January period is perhaps the optimum time. Some areas flood during the rains so you'll need to be a little flexible with logistics - there may be a diversion or itinerary change - and insects are more abudant than usual.

But it's a small price to pay for unparalleled wildlife experiences in an uninhabited wilderness - if you want to see Botswana at its most beautiful, take my advice and go Green.

No Rain No Gain
Kings Pool

How to do it

Witness the zebra migration from Leroo Le Tau and Camp Kalahari, both ideal destinations during the Green Season. For the predator action in the Savuti area of the Chobe, choose Kings Pool and Zarafa Camp, two superb locations for Green Season game- and bird viewing.

Written by Dominic Chadbon. Connect with him on Google+.

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